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Jane Speller writes:

In recent weeks I have reported on the Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth archive cataloguing project.  Funded by the John Rylands Research Institute, the aim of the project is to open the rich content of the archive up to researchers here in Manchester and elsewhere.  The one thousand plus letters which mostly span 1814 to 1877 give us a particular insight into Victorian gender roles and social mores.

Women were not allowed to vote which at that time signified their status at second class citizens, and had little independence outside of the home unless they were women of means.

Blanche Marion Kay-Shuttleworth painted by Michele Gordigiani, 1876. With kind permission from the Shuttleworth family.

Blanche Marion Kay-Shuttleworth painted by Michele Gordigiani, 1876. With kind permission from the Shuttleworth family.

Blanche Marion Kay-Shuttleworth (neé Parish) married Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth’s eldest son Ughtred in 1871. Her letters to her father-in-law and other family members describe her life as wife of a Liberal MP and mistress of three households – Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley, Barbon Manor near Kirkby Lonsdale on the edge of the Lake District, and a London residence in Princes Street, Mayfair. In a letter dated 1876 she recalls how she listened in secret to the after dinner speeches of a Liberal Party meeting which was being held in the drawing room at Gawthorpe. Other letters describe having her portrait painted by Florentine painter Michele Gordigiani whilst on an extended tour of the Continent in 1876. This portrait now hangs in Leck Hall, the current home of the Shuttleworth family.

Aunt Puss and Aunt Pop are prominent figures in the letters. Puss was the eldest child of James and Janet. She spent many years nursing her sick mother at the Villa Ponente in San Remo. There was an expectation that on her mother’s death she would return to England to nurse her father, but she remained in Italy and surrounded herself with female friends. Her niece Catherine Leaf (neé Kay-Shuttleworth) recalls Puss as being, ‘…the thinnest person I’ve ever seen and one of the most saintly. She had a great sense of humour. Papa [Ughtred] said her twinkling eyes and arched eyebrows were signs of her inborn fun’. She also recalls Puss describing Charlotte Brontë’s visit to Gawthorpe, exclaiming, ‘…how short sighted she was and not attractive to children’.

Pop was Marianne North. The North and Shuttleworth families came together when Janet Shuttleworth married Frederick North, Liberal MP for Hastings, after the death of her husband Robert Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall. Marianne was their eldest daughter.

Janet and her baby daughter (from her first marriage), also named Janet (the Gawthorpe heiress), lived at the North home in Hastings, East Sussex. Lady Janet Shuttleworth eventually married James Phillips Kay in 1842. Marianne was an accomplished botanical painter and travelled extensively around the world (1871-1885) painting and drawing exotic flora and fauna. She donated her work to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, and built a gallery to house them in which opened in 1882. You can visit the Marianne North Gallery at Kew today.

Over the course of his life Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth made many rich and powerful friends in the worlds of politics and education. Two such friends and correspondents were Harriet Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland and Angela Georgina Burdette-Coutts, Baroness Burdette-Coutts. As women with large fortunes and by that token great independence, their lives are described in stark contrast to those of, for example, James’ mother Hannah, whose world revolved around her husband, sons and chapel; and his sister Hannah who spend her life looking after her mother and her three much younger brothers.

Charles Dickens, engraved by John Forster, 1872 (Ref: JRL Eng. MS 725)

Charles Dickens, engraved by John Forster, 1872 (Ref: JRL Eng. MS 725)

Angela, daughter of the former Sophie Coutts (of the banking family Coutts), was 23 years old in 1837 when she inherited the huge fortune of £1.8 million from her grandmother the actress and great beauty, Harriet Mellon. Angela was famed for the wonderful parties and festivities that she held at her rural home, Holly Lodge in Highbury, London. Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens, a good friend, were both regular visitors to the estate. Angela was a generous philanthropist and spent the majority of her wealth on scholarships, endowments, and a wide range of charitable causes. She took a great interest in Blanche and Ughtred’s first born child, who was christened Angela Mary.

Harriet was born a Sutherland, one of the most powerful Whig families of the day. Her mother was Georgina Cavendish (neé Spencer) the celebrated Duchess of Devonshire. Harriet was, like her mother, a great society hostess and active political campaigner. She served as Mistress of the Robes for all Queen Victoria’s Whig governments until 1861. She was a great friend of Queen Victoria and used her social position to undertake various philanthropic undertakings including the protest of English women against American slavery. She and James Kay-Shuttleworth shared many political views and she supported his work, for example visiting his teacher training college at Battersea.

Rachel Kay- Shuttleworth, aged 18, miniature portrait by Mabel Lee Hankey, 1905. © Gawthorpe Textile Collection.

Rachel Kay- Shuttleworth, aged 18, miniature portrait by Mabel Lee Hankey, 1905. © Gawthorpe Textile Collection.

The Hon. Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, daughter of Ughtred and Blanche, was the last Kay-Shuttleworth to live at Gawthorpe Hall. She died in 1967. Rachel or ‘Miss Rachel’ as she became known was a talented embroiderer and lace maker, skills she inherited from her mother. She amassed a world famous textile study collection, the Gawthorpe Textile Collection. In fitting fashion the collection is curated and cared for by a team of dedicated women. Parts of the collection can be seen on display at Gawthorpe along with work by contemporary textile artists from across the region.